A disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of the globe, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he ultimately discovers will prove far more astonishing than anything he'd either dreaded or hoped for.
NOTE: This 60th anniversary edition of Earth Abides includes a special introduction written and read by Hugo Award-winning writer Connie Willis.
©1949, renewed 1976 by George R. Stewart; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
This sci-fi/post Armageddon book was written in 1949, and I hesitated to buy it from Audible because of its publication date. A terrible disease wipes out most of the human population of earth leaving only a few stragglers to continue the race. Ish (the protagonist, Ishram Williams) is in the mountains during the epidemic, and thanks to a rattlesnake bite (he believes), he survives the plague though he is very ill.
Ish's attempt to guarantee the success of mankind over future generations is the direction of the book. His success (or lack thereof) is what makes the story work. I kept trying to think of it as it would be written today, but really there isn't much difference. The libraries have real card catalogs, things are not so dependent on electronics, vehicles don't work the same way, but all in all, the story doesn't have that feel of obsolescence I was expecting.
I laughed, I cried, I suffered with Ish in his realizations about humanity. There are scenes in that book I will never forget -- the deserted University library, the rusting and abandoned Golden Gate Bridge, the little dog begging Ish for recognition. Stewart dealt with racial barriers in a way that is completely unexpected in a book written in 1949. His concerns with the future of mankind are clear and obvious (and still as pertinent as they were 60 years ago).
This is an intense book, not a light read, but it is entertaining and thought provoking. I find myself wondering how I would react in a world nearly devoid of people with no running water or electricity. Curse it, it makes me think.
First of all, this is not the Stand, and no post apocalyptic horror story. To be honest, I was kind of hoping Earth Abides would be like that, but when I started the book I realized this book is not comparable to the Stand.
Humanity is wiped out except for a few, and the story is about Ish and some other survivors who start a new civilization. To me, the story is realistic and sometimes harsh, and I was really curious how it all would end. The narrator has a pleasant voice, and I wasn't bored once throughout the book. At the end I was left with awe, and I'm sure I'll never forget this book.
Earth Abides is one of the most important books I have ever read. This is not an adventure novel or a thriller. There are no zombies and no roaming bands of cannibals. Instead, its focus is on the Earth in the wake of humanity's destruction and on the remaining humans who inhabit this bleak new world. It is a carefully honed experiment in anthropology and sociology. Its depth and complexity is astounding and it deserves to be ranked as one of the best novels of the twentieth century. It can be boring at times but it is truly brilliant, beautiful, sad, terrifying, and entirely worth the trouble. And the narrator is excellent and adds enormous value to the story.
The main character, Isherwood "Ish" Williams, watches as the world of man falls apart. He is an intellectual and an anxious man who fears that his tribe of survivor's easy lifestyle, thriving on the remains of the past, will cause humanity to revert into a primitive state. Ish takes upon himself the burden of maintaining human knowledge, building new traditions, a new state, and even a new civilization. His tribe, on the other hand, is content to live in an idyllic world where food is plentiful, disease is unknown, and there is little to fear.
Much of the novel is Ish's internal dialogue and the narrative tends to veer off on tangents. I occasionally found myself lost and had no idea what the author was talking about. And Stewart's attention to detail often gives the reader the sense that something is about to happen when, in fact, nothing does. Then there are other passages that the reader knows are going nowhere, such as the description of scenery, and reading feels like a chore.
Despite its flaws, Earth Abides is filled with so much wisdom regarding human psychology and the state of man in nature and in civilization, that it should be required reading for any college student studying sociology, anthropology, or even political science. This is a novel that I will remember forever.
I read all the time, or nearly. I always have, I guess, since I was very young ... and now, getting older, more audio than any other medium.
I have read this book ... in print ... many times over the years and have owned many copies of it, passed along to friends and acquaintances who presumably passed it along to yet others.
I think what is MOST wonderful about the book is not, as I have heard some reviewers comment, that it is the "the original disaster story," but rather that it is a book of enormous hope.
Civilization may come and go, but Earth Abides. It's in the title.
I was listening to Connie Willis' introduction to the book and realized that she had missed something because, well, she doesn't read or speak Hebrew. I do, if badly, speak and understand Hebrew so I knew that "Ish" (pro: eesh) means, in Hebrew "Man, and in some contexts, "husband" while Emma (in Hebrew, pro: eema) means "Mother." Is it a bizarre coincidence the the two characters who begin the rebuilding are thus named?
I think not.
So in this book, though all the things of mankind perish when most humans are rather tidily eliminated, Earth does indeed abide and humankind reinvents civilization as it has before and quite probably will again.
It is a disaster (certainly for all those who died), but it is the beginning of everything too.
It is a wonderful book and despite the lack of computers and other electronic gadgets, the book is not particularly dated. How long, after all, would the internet function without people to fix downed servers, electronic glitches etc. How fast would our cell phones cease having service?
As science fiction goes, this is one of the greatest. As philosophy goes, it's not bad either! Also, incidentally, very well written and rather poetic.
Audible puts this book in the sci-fi category, but if you're not a sci-fi person, don't let that scare you off this amazing book. The narration is done incredibly well and the story of the fall and rise of civilization feels so authentic I didn't want to leave these characters behind after the book was over. Highly recommended 'listen'.
The premise of this book reminded me of "The Road" but not so graphic. The book revolves around a man "Ish" who lives through a epidemic that wipes out almost the whole world. Though he does not witness the epidemic, he emerges from living in solitude in a cabin in northern California to see it's after effects. No one is around. He proceeds to slowly build a small community over the ensuing 40+ years. A very well written account of life, starting over. The book was written in 1949, as such there is no graphic content and the story shines through. Highly recommended and very well narrated.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
If you are looking for a page-turning, violent-action-packed post-holocaust story like in the movies Road Warrior or I Am Legend, look elsewhere. Stewart's Earth Abides is much more quiet, poetic, beautiful, and thoughtful, though it surely packs many emotional punches and has plenty of suspense, once you submerse yourself in his world and characters.
I like Ish (Isherwood Williams), Stewart's protagonist. He's humane, thoughtful, sensitive, honest, and brave as he tries to live "creatively" in a world in which humanity has been almost completely wiped out via a quick-acting virus. Ish's attempts to find surviving kindred spirits and to rebuild civilization are moving. Stewart's detailed descriptions of the processes by which nature reclaims or transforms the traces of human civilization like roads, buildings, and cultivated flora and fauna are vivid; his speculations (through Ish) about human nature, civilization, race, gender, religion, love, life, and death are stimulating; his use of symbols like Ish's hammer, the university library, and the Bay Bridge are rich. The novel possesses a biblical (Old Testament) grandeur and pathos leavened by quiet humor. Despite being published in 1949, it doesn't seem dated. As other reviewers have noted, many scenes remain with you long after you close the book (or turn off your player).
The introduction by Connie Willis is heartfelt, interesting, and concise.
Finally, Jonathan Davis does a great job reading this book (as he does with The Windup Girl), infusing Stewart's detailed story with plenty of wit and emotion and humor and generally speaking in a pleasing reading voice that amplifies the text without trying to dominate it.
As a major fan of the post-apocalyptic novel, I must say that "Earth Abides" stands among the best of its era (1950s), alongside "On the Beach," and "Alas, Babylon." The story focuses not on what happens to society in general, but rather on the experiences of one man, Isherwood Williams, and his immediate circle of family and friends. Isherwood's thoughts and musings about life and death form the greater part of the narrative. The audiobook features an excellent narration of a novel that, I'm certain, presented a lot of challenges due to its downbeat tone and general lack of "action." No doubt fans of movie magic and dramatic end-of-the world fireworks will find this book dull. The impact is subtle and filtered through the eyes of the philosophies and observations of the protagonist. Nonetheless, this book is a treasure for those who are patient and who do not require intense action scenes in every chapter.
I read this book first 30 years ago in college. It became one of my favorite books ever even after all these years. This is not your typical apocalyptic novel with undercurrents of aliens or walking dead. It is a straightforward tale of a man who lives his life on the earth almost devoid of human life. It describes in detail the gradual decay of all that humankind built over 5000 years as the earth reclaims its own. It also tells the story of a small group of individuals that make a life and even a community amid the vestiges of a bygone world of machines and remnants of mankind's achievements. It truly is a book that will stick with you for the rest of you life.
I first read this book literally decades ago, and coming back to the story again reminded me of why I was so moved by it.
Catastrophic disease now is even more plausible, and yet humankind has not changed. This book is very relevant to our time and worth the credit.
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